What better way to welcome spring than with a home that’s a blank canvas for all of your warmer-weather intentions? Welcome to Green Clean, a 4-part series with approachable and sustainable tips to help you prepare your space for the new season. To kick things off, we’re reaching out to tiny home owners, professional organizers, and deep-cleaning experts to bring you the ultimate guide to decluttering.
The first step of any deep clean is a decluttering session—a strangely satisfying way to look within, assess your relationship with your belongings, and drop that which no longer serves you.
Sit in a chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Close your eyes. Place your hands in the center of your chest right over your heart. Notice your feet touching the ground. Notice your hands on your chest. Now take three deep slow breaths all though a wide open mouth. Counting silently to yourself on the inhale 1-2-3, exhaling equally as slow and gently 1-2-3. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose helps us to connect more deeply with the lower, or root chakras. Sending breath down into the lower part of the body generally stimulates feelings associated with safety, patience and a sense of connection to the earth. Placing the hands over the heart helps the body release a hormone called oxytocin, also known as the hugging hormone, which helps the body feel more relaxed and stable. I urge all my clients to try this exercise when a project feels overwhelming. It's truly refreshing to be able to calm the body in just three breaths.
Once you've found some headspace, it's time to dive in. According to Peter Walsh, the organizational expert behind Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life, the most important step is landing on a vision for your space. "If you can do that, deciding whether a certain item stays or goes becomes a question of does it move you closer to or further away from that vision," he says. Do you want your space to motivate you to tackle your to-do list this spring? Or should it be more of a zen oasis where you can go to relax?
After landing on your intention, you can grab your supplies. We love this checklist Melissa Maker, the cleaner who penned Clean My Space: The Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster, and Loving Your Home Every Day:
- 1 bag for donations
- 1 bag for items to throw away
- 1 bag for items to repurpose (we'll be walking you through how to do this later this week, so stay tuned!)
- A holding cell for items you want to give to other people
- A solid podcast queue
Then, all that's left to do is go room by room, tackling one section at a time. Pay mind to all of your belongings, assessing whether they fit into the grand vision you have for your home. All the while, stay gentle on yourself and don't force it. "The biggest mistake though that I see people make over and over is that they expect way too much from themselves in way too short a time frame," says Walsh. So know that you can always stop and pick things back up later, though once you start gaining momentum, you might find it difficult to stop.
"I think it's easier as you get further along the process, because less things feel less overwhelming. It's easier to see what matters when you don't have to look through a daunting tunnel of stuff first," explains decluttering pro Macy Miller, who has managed to pare down her belongings to fit into the 196-square-foot tiny house she shares with her husband, dog, and two young children.
If you have trouble deciding whether certain items fit into your vision, start asking some more refined questions. This list from the experts will give you more clarity on the space you're looking to create, and whether or not the item in question fits into it.
1. Why is it here in the first place?
"Most people blame their busy lifestyles as the reason for their disorganization, and they aren't fully aware of why they keep falling into the same old habits. I've found time and time again that when I help them uncover the truth, emotional attachments or making something else a priority is generally at the root of the clutter," says Petit. If you're holding onto something purely to please someone else, it's probably time to let it go.
2. Do I still need it? Do I still use it the way I initially intended to?
Maker says that this question helps her stay logical and impartial through the decluttering process. "I try to think about how I’d coach a friend if she asked me to help her with decluttering by taking a neutral approach to the object," she says. "If it does indeed make sense for me to keep, I’ll be able to work it out logically. So my internal dialogue might sound like, ‘I can give this to my friend since I know she’s been wanting one and if I really need it back I can always borrow it from her.'"
3. Does it spark joy?
Professional organizers agree that Marie Kondo is onto something with this one. By asking if an item brings you joy, you're getting to the root of your attachment.
4. Does it add value?
"From the parenting standpoint, we ask if an item adds value," says Miller. "Is the particular toy fun and imagination-provoking or is it just a distraction? Can we use it in multiple ways?" The same question can apply to adult toys too. Can you use that item in many different scenarios or does it have one fixed purpose?
5. Would someone else enjoy it?
As Laura LaVoie and her partner Matt prepared to move into a 120-square-foot tiny home, they asked this question of items they were on the fence about. "We would just think of how much use someone else could get out of it, and we would give it away either to someone we knew or to a charity."
Okay, so you've put in the time to analyze your relationship with your stuff. But how do you know when it's time to put down the bags?
Bonnie J. Dewkett of The Joyful Organizer has a genius answer: "I like to equate home organization to emptying the dishwasher. When you empty the dishwasher, you simply put your items in the ares you've already predetermined for them. Putting items away in your home is the same after getting organized. It's about keeping the things you need and love close at hand and giving every item in your home its own home."
Once you can get to this point where all of your belongings have a purpose and place, you're well on your way to that minimalist mentality so many of us are after. "Being a minimalist is the difference between having to part with something and getting to part with something," explains Miller. "It's a choice to see the value in less. Once you experience this, it's hard to feel like collecting again."
Keep checking into mbg throughout the week for guides on how to clean your newly decluttered space in an eco-friendly way, repurpose the items you're considering tossing, and keep your home spotless for seasons to come.